COMMENT If you are in Sarawak right now, during this period of campaigning for the state election, it would be quite obvious that the BN strategists have decided to ride on Chief Minister Adenan Satem's brand name, the same way they rode on Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak's during the 13th general election.
You would be forgiven if you thought that it was a US-style presidential election that is taking place. Everywhere you go you see huge billboards at every street junction, declaring Adenan this, Adenan that. You have Team Adenan, The Adenan Way and even The Adenan Fever!
The man has shrewdly moved away from the big black shadow of his predecessor, Abdul Taib Mahmud, who retired from office as one of the most reviled men in Malaysia for his excessive corruption. It is easy to love someone when he seems to act and talk differently from someone as tainted as Taib Mahmud.
Adenan branded himself as a reformer, a Mr Clean, a straight-talker and a defender of Sarawakians. But is he? The way he is conducting himself during this election alone should be a warning to Sarawakians that Adenan is not what he makes himself out to be.
These are some of the reasons why all Sarawakians should be wary of the Adenan Fever.
- His arrogance showed when he usurped the right of the Election Commission (EC) to decide on polling day by announcing that it would be April 30. In the end, the EC set it as May 7. Adenan also boasted that he has successfully told the EC to create the Murum and Mulu seats for the Kenyah and Kelabit people. In his eagerness to show what a big man he is, he has no qualms in shaming the EC, which is supposed to conduct the election and carry out the re-delineation exercise independently.
- He disregarded Section 67 of the Immigration Act that states clearly that the State Authority cannot stop anyone from entering to engage in legitimate political activities. Adenan banned scores of opposition politicians and activists from West Malaysia coming to help in the election. What is he afraid of, if he is so popular? Or does Adenan just want to show that he has the power and is not afraid to use it? This is called abuse of power and in this case, he is breaking the law.
- He again disregarded the law by violating Section 10 of the Election Offences Act on bribery by using state funds to make allocations to constituents during campaigning. Hundreds of millions of ringgit have so far been “allocated” to constituencies throughout Sarawak, by both the federal and state governments. There have been reported instances where such allocations are conditional that the BN’s candidate wins in that constituency. Such blatant violation of the Election Offences Act goes on and Adenan is party to all these violations.
- He is not above using the race card to win votes when he urged the bumiputera to unite so that they can win the three state seats in Miri. He again played to the Bidayuh crowd at Serian when he lied that the Opposition was against them (the Bidayuh) having more seats by opposing the re-delineation exercise. The Judicial Review taken by PKR’s See Chee How was against the Notice given by the EC to the affected voters, that it was insufficient, not against the seat increase, much less against the Bidayuh seats. So Adenan is not above blatantly lying and playing the race card. With such behaviour, Umno doesn't need to come in to Sarawak, for PBB itself is doing a pretty good job of racial politics.
- Adenan does not separate big businesses from politics by appointing tycoons as BN direct candidates. No prize for guessing what would be their priority when it comes to making money for themselves or serving the people. Cronyism is legitimised. Sarawak has suffered enough through decades of such partnerships between politicians and big businesses, and it can ill afford another round of plunder and pillage by these people.
- Adenan’s arrogance showed again when he had the audacity to ask his fellow chief ministers, Mohamed Azmin Ali and Lim Guan Eng, to apply for permission to extend their stay beyond the May 2 and May 5 dates that they were restricted to. Such blatant disrespect for their office is a sign that public institutions mean little to him. Did he really expect these men, who represent the Selangor and Penang governments, to go crawling to him on all fours?
When you have lawmakers who are willing to break the law, then you have people who think they are above the law. To them, the law is a big stick they use to keep the rest of us in line.
Adenan is no reformer. He is no Bernie Sanders, Jokowi Widodo or Aung Sang Suu Kyi. He was the special adviser to Taib Mahmud and part of Taib’s inner circle for decades. How can he be a reformer overnight and a defender of Sarawakians when he is part of the same BN regime that has been, and still is, plundering the wealth of Sarawak?
Yes, as those big billboards in Sarawak declared, “There is a new fever in Sarawak and it's called the Adenan Fever.” That should be a warning sign that the second poorest state in Malaysia is about to be duped, again, into giving this man a big mandate.
Remember that the real Team Adenan are people like Najib Razak and Taib Mahmud, to whom Adenan openly admits he is very close to and enjoys good working relationships with. Just like how Najib was the poster boy of BN during GE13, Adenan may show his true colours soon after the election.
A fever is an indicator of a problem, a blood infection in the body. And we should be very wary of the Adenan Fever: it may kill us!
THOMAS FANN is a social activist and chairperson of Engage, a non-governmental organisation involved in strengthening democracy, defending human rights, promoting social justice and protecting the environment.